Printing Out Supper: 3-D Printed Food

food-3d-printer

The following is a guest post

The excitement over 3-D printing has gained steam throughout 2013, and 2014 will certainly open everyone’s eyes to the possibilities of this remarkable achievement in technology. And with all of the problems 3-D printing has solved already, is “What’s for dinner?” going to be the next?

In a recent New York Times article, Esquire magazine editor-at-large A.J. Jacobs set out to create a romantic dinner for his wife using all 3-D printed tableware and—yes—food. After some trials and tribulations printing his forks and wine glasses, Jacobs consulted Cornell University Ph.D. engineering student Jeffrey I. Lipton to assist with the meal preparation. Once he arrived and cleared the kitchen table for room, the entire setup included an air compressor, a food thickener, plastic tubes and bottles of xanthan gum.

3-D food printing research is currently underway worldwide: the article cites a “group of Dutch researchers (who are) working on inexpensive bases made from algae and insect protein.” NASA gave a $125,000 grant to a Texas firm to explore options for 3-D printed meals for astronauts. And for future home food printing, medicinal and nutritional additives are being researched to fulfill your needs for every meal of the day.

Italy-pizza

Slaving Over a Hot Printer

After weeks of deliberation over the meal, the four-course menu of pizza, an eggplant dish, corn pasta and panna cotta was ready to be printed. With the capabilities of 3-D printing, the pizza shape was coded to be in the shape of Italy, complete with the Apennine mountain range. After the dough was squeezed out, the sauce was next, but offered an unforeseen challenge: oregano flakes.

The tube nozzles for 3-D food printing are quite small and the oregano in the tomato sauce caused some complications during the saucing process. Nonetheless the sauce was eventually administered and the cheese was delivered without incident. But what about heating the pizza? Future models may have some type of technology to cook the food, but for now they had to use their old-fashioned 21st century oven to do the trick.

20 minutes later the pizza was ready and Jacobs and his wife “put our slices on our 3-D printed plates, cut a piece with our 3-D printed forks” then clinked their 3-D printed wine glasses. The ruling: “I wasn’t magically transported to the holo-deck of the Starship Enterprise, but it was good eating. In my wife’s opinion, almost as good as Patsy’s, which is high praise.”

printed-noodles

Keep it Coming

The next 3-D printed delicacy was corn-based noodles in the shape of their initials. The taste was similar to soft angel hair pasta, a lighter setup for their side dish of eggplant. As the most complex of the three foods prepared so far, this attempt was to showcase the printer’s ability to combine any vegetable, meat, fruit or nut into one object. The result was a gummy texture which Jacobs and his wife left unfinished.

And for dessert: panna cotta with the hidden letters “NYC” made out of blue cream in the middle. However, Lipton needed a separate compressor hose for the secret letters that was not onsite. Ultimately, the cream came out nice and light.

To end the article, Jacobs expressed his overall enjoyment of the experience and his optimism for the future of 3-D printing. There are several variables to consider, such as society’s need for instant gratification and the considerable time it currently takes to print out a simple meal. Printing machinery may be faster in the future, but stopping at a drive-thru or popping something in the microwave is still the quickest way to get a meal for now.

That is, until Lipton’s prediction of a 3-D food printing “silent revolution” is upon us.

About the author:

Steve Erickson, Vice President, Sales & Engineering, brings more than 30 years of experience in the plastic injection molding industry to First American Plastic Molding Enterprise and Quad, Inc. (http://www.firstamericanplastic.com/), both in South Beloit, IL. First American Plastic Molding Enterprise is a custom plastic injection molding manufacturer and assembler for the automotive, food, medical, and industrial markets.